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[PCUSANEWS] GAC, PC(USA) executives look for "a new way"

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Date Thu, 28 Sep 2006 08:08:19 -0400

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06491 September 27, 2006

GAC, PC(USA) executives look for "a new way"

First-ever joint meeting identifies mission, communication, collaboration as keys to revitalization

by Jerry Van Marter

LOUISVILLE * Renewed commitments to mission, communication and collaboration are the keys to a revitalized Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), participants in the first-ever joint meeting of the General Assembly Council (GAC) and the denomination's presbytery and synod executives seemed to agree today (Sept. 27).

"Being a missional church is essential and is, in fact, already bubbling up at the presbytery and congregational level," said Manley Olson, a GAC member from the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, in a report to the gathering of 200 leaders from one of many small group discussions that flourished throughout the two-day event, entitled "A New Way for a New Day: Beyond the Maze and into the Labyrinth."

"We are Presbyterians sent by God as apostles to make disciples and transform the world," said David Wasserman, executive of Grace Presbytery. "If we claim that purpose, the rest of it * funding, structure * will fall into place."

The gathering occurred as the GAC works to restructure its governance and programmatic work in the wake of last spring's $9.15 million budget cut and staff reduction which resulted in 75 layoffs at the Presbyterian Center here.

At the same time, numerous synods and presbyteries are facing their own stresses. The presbyteries of Sierra Blanca and Santa Fe in New Mexico, along with the Synod of the Southwest, have asked the GAC to convene a consultation to address "the stability and viability" of the denomination's middle governing bodies. The council will take up that request later this week.

But there was clearly a high level of energy around the conversations here. Utilizing a rubric called "appreciative inquiry," they revolved around 10 issues:

Vision; Purpose; Connectionalism; Leadership; Missional church; Stewardship; Communications; Coordination; A healthy denomination; and Priorities and structures.

The need for improved relationships, communication and collaboration as the church focuses on mission wove through most of the conversations.

Carol Adcock, a GAC member from Ft. Worth, TX, said the participants at her table have agreed to "intentionally remember each other by name in prayer" each day for the next year. "We need to practice spirituality by our love for each other," she said.

Jean Demmler, a GAC member from Denver, agreed. Echoing one of the "great ends of the church," she said, "The PC(USA) is a provisional demonstration of God's hospitality in the world. As such we need to meet more, eat more and talk less."

Greater collaboration among Presbyterians at all levels of the church must be part of the denomination's future revitalization, numerous speakers said. Paige McRight, executive of Central Florida Presbytery, said the focus of the church's efforts must be on congregations, with "the GAC engaging in presbyteries to discern what mission means in each distinct place and providing creative linking for mission."

In the future, McRight said, "The GAC should shape its work to facilitate networks for ministry, not produce products for consumption." The bottom line, she said, should be "that all mission is done at the level where that mission can be done most effectively."

Effective collaboration throughout the church requires effective communication. Clark Cowden, executive of San Joaquin Presbytery, suggested more than once that the denomination needs a "press secretary" who will be responsible for "a consistent, positive message on behalf of the church."

Andrea Stokes, a GAC member from Little Rock, AR, said she "envisions a unified communication system, internal and external, interactive, engaging, responsive, empowering and clear." Because pastors are key, she added, "presbyteries need to be fluent in delivering information * people should be nurtured and nourished by what is said and invigorated into intentional discernment."

The goal of collaboration, communication and better relationships, all agreed, is a church more intensely focused on mission.

One small group went so far as to suggest that the 2008 General Assembly take no actions, but spend it's entire time in discernment of God's mission for the church. Another group suggested that annual statistical reports be replaced by reports on governing bodies' discernment of their mission.

Corey Schlosser-Hall, whose been executive of North Puget Sound Presbytery for just over a week, said he envisions a near future when "as a church we'll be doing ongoing discernment in where God is at work and the Spirit is moving and join God there rather than just waiting for God to show up in church.

"We need to stop asking God to bless our work," Schlosser-Hall said, "and simply do the work that God has already blessed."


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